Are you behind on the Wallander series on the telly? Check out these photo sets from “One Step Behind” for a bit of a “you are there” feeling.
Thanks also to Philip Young for pointing out this article on Swedish society which says it is both happy and focused on equality on the one hand, but not particularly welcoming to strangers with different ideas on the other. Having just read two books with plots that focus on the evils of sex trafficking and the way men exert power over women (Box 21 and The Girl Who Played With Fire) this article is a bit jarring in contrast:
Christina Ramberg, a top commercial lawyer from Gothenburg and someone who always votes right, was the most articulate of all the people I talked to. She argued that, “Sweden is a wonderful place for women and children. Swedes are more economically productive than anyone else because at work we work. We work very hard even without the boss being on our backs. That’s why we have a high national income and can take the longest holidays of any industrialised nation. Moreover, we don’t see the state as an opponent, but as a friend. I find it hard, having travelled and worked all over the world, to come up with any negatives about Sweden.”
Then again, I’m often jarred, when reading Scandinavian crime fiction, by criticsm of a social system that’s corrupt or complacent – but incredibly enlightened compared to social services in the US. Though I recognize some of cultural traits cited in this article at play in Minnesota (an unspoken pressure to conform to social norms, using “that’s different” as a kind of passive-aggressive form of criticism) the Swedes’ sensible attitudes toward sex, religion, and pitching in for the common good sound pretty enviable to me.
Irresistible Targets has some new reviews up. First, Arnaldur Indridason’s The Draining Lake, which Michael Carlson thinks is his favorite of the series so far. He writes:
There are distinct echoes in this novel of Halldor Laxness’ The Atom Station, with the echoes of geopolitics rebounding on the narrow world-view of Icelanders, and Indridason, while not revealing who the corpse is, tells its back story convincingly, the tale of committed Icelandic communists studying in East Germany in the mid-fifties, of naiveté in both politics and love, and ultimate disillusionment. That story is portrayed convincingly, with young Tomas’ idealism tinting the narrative, and we, the audience, knowing better.
This is something that I think Arnaldur does extraordinarily well – layering his narratives so that you see two periods of time simultaneously and informing each other, like a legible palimpsest. I thought that was the most amazing accomplishment of Silence of the Grave – the way the sections of the book played off each other and gradually the reader could draw them together. Absolutely masterful.
He also takes a look at Henning Mankell’s collection of short stories, The Pyramid, in which in an introduction Mankell provides a tag line for the Wallander series: Novels about the Swedish anxiety. At times that theme is a tad overplayed in these stories, but on the whole the collection works very well indeed. He concludes:
In his shorter stories, Mankell is often making a character point. This is signalled particularly strongly by the original title of ‘The Man With The Mask’, which was called ‘The Divide’ and emphases not only the relationship between Wallander and the man who holds him hostage in a convenience store robbery, but also between Mona and him, she being the outsider who can never understand what he has gone through. A couple of stories end in suicides, which is a particularly Swedish way of dealing with things (Americans tend to prefer taking people with them) and a couple require epilogues to explain the complications of plots that are creaky, but which Mankell is not taking too seriously; less police procedural than Swedish psychological. It’s a riveting book, that to anyone familiar with Wallander hangs together like an episodic novel, doing exactly what Mankell planned.